I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the leaked Doom3 Alpha that’s been spreading across ftp-servers throughout the net and screenshots popping up left and right. If not you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few days or id software indeed did a proper job of keeping this hush-hush. Never before have I seen screenshots and other info from an unreleased game being pulled off of websites that quickly. When even the larger gaming news networks hold off on reporting about it, let alone even making the slightest hint or mention about it, you know something is seriously amiss.
What am I implying here? Well, just think about it for a minute. Suppose I have a 3GHz Athlon XP here, not sent to us by AMD but rather taken from a demo system and mysteriously ending up at our labs. Would we pass up the opportunity of running a few benchmarks on it, even if just to get an idea of its performance? No, we wouldn’t, if we didn’t sign an NDA and weren’t under any embargo we would write an article about it and post our results accompanied by, and this is the culprit, a rather large disclaimer. Sure, AMD would be on our case and probably ask us to take the article down if the benchmarks did not put the CPU in a positive spotlight.
That may well be the problem here, if the CPU performed admirably AMD would probably protest a bit and give us some flak for not taking the usual route for obtaining evaluation samples, but overall they’d see their stock price rise and have analysts predict a brighter future for them. If it didn’t perform admirably however we’d be in a lawsuit faster than we could say ‘we’re sorry’, as a negative report about a product further down the roadmap could hurt them substantially. Quite possibly bring their stock price down and have analysts write doomsday scenarios about their future.
So what’s wrong with this leaked Doom3 Alpha? It is like the 3GHz AMD CPU not performing as expected but not at the fault of AMD but rather the platform it is tested on not being able to show it’s true performance potential. The Doom3 Alpha is a piece of very raw code, not much time has been put towards tweaking it to each and every system configuration it might run on, instead it could very well be optimized for ATi’s Radeon 9700 Pro only. So the performance and quality of graphics will be very different across the board; with some people getting high frame rates and a pretty picture whereas others will be barely able to run it at all, if it even runs.
It’s like plugging the 3GHz AMD Athlon XP into a SiS chipset motherboard featuring SDRAM memory and a lowly Nvidia TNT graphics card and then comparing it to a 3.06GHz Pentium 4 with PC1066 RDRAM and a Radeon 9700 Pro. If you use 3Dmark2001 as a benchmark the Pentium 4 will leave the AMD biting the dust, but a Linux kernel compile might paint a whole different picture. It is all about under what conditions these configurations are tested. And that’s exactly the problem here, the Doom3 Alpha was developed to run under very controlled conditions, to demo Doom3 and the Radeon 9700 Pro during an exhibition, it was not intended for public release.
The reason why id software isn’t too happy about the leak is because they look bad if their game, albeit in alpha stage and non-optimized, doesn’t run on a respectable configuration and people start making wild assumptions about it. The problem is most of these people did not bother to read the obvious disclaimer, nor bothered to think twice about what they’re actually making assumptions about. This isn’t a public demo, or some short of showcase, if it doesn’t run on your system, it is your problem not id’s. The other problem is that id software could’ve handled this much better. It looks as if they used their leverage with some of the networks that run or support these gaming sites to pull the content and any reference to it. These networks and gaming sites obviously complied in angst of loosing advertising opportunities or ending up at the bottom of some important developers’ shitlist.
That is what puzzles me, why not issue a press release, having John Carmack stress the fact that this is an Alpha, a technology demo at best and it comes with a huge disclaimer? Then up some new screenshots from their latest build, advice people to no use the Alpha as a rulestick and maybe even add a movie or two. With that, they could’ve motivated a lot of gamers to hold off on their Christmas purchases and rather buy Doom3 when it is released in 2003. That would’ve made this a news worthy item, especially for the gaming sites and networks, and could’ve turned an unfortunate leak into a great PR opportunity. Now they’re faced with having to fight all sorts of claims about the performance and graphics and deal with an Alpha circulating in the IIRC channels and resurfacing at obscure ftp-servers and gaming sites the world over.